Rick and Morty’s Bechdel Test joke exposes a major problem with the show
Rick and Morty go meta on gender representation.
Rick and Morty pokes fun at countless shows and movies, but one of the Adult Swim show's favorite targets is itself. That showed in spades in last night's midseason premiere, "Never Ricking Morty," which saw the duo stuck on a train deconstructing the "story circle" method of writing used by series creator Dan Harmon. Among numerous references to tropes and storytelling cliches, one stands out more than the rest. But this moment of self-reflection that aspires to be more satisfying than it truly is.
In a plot reminiscent of Snowpiercer, Rick and Morty plan to reach the train's engine, but standing in their way is a "thematic seal." In order to pass through, Morty must tell a story that doesn't involve them at all. Rick coaches him to tell a story that passes the Bechdel Test, providing a succinct explanation: "Two women, they both have to have names, and talk to each other about something other than a man." The test was inspired an exchange in a 1985 edition of Alison Bechdel's long-running comic-strip, Dykes to Watch Out For.
Morty then recounts a tale of his sister and mom sharing tea and discussing their "special times," and then defending their house from scorpions with their special times. The segment is capped off by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, referred to as "the Supreme Court lady," congratulating them.
It's a hilarious version of feminism seen through the eyes of a clueless boy, but it's also the Rick and Morty creators owning up to not giving enough attention to its female characters, treating them as accessories to the protagonists.
Despite being a common rubric for feminist media criticism, it's rare for a show to actually reference the Bechdel to address its own shortcomings. That's starting to change, thanks to a new wave of genre shows that aren't afraid to lean against the fourth wall. DC's Legends of Tomorrow has done it in the Season 4 episode "Séance and Sensibility," when Zari tries to shrug off accusations of a crush by mentioning the test.
A similar exchange happens in Syfy's The Magicians, when a dream version of Julia and Alice tell Quentin to shut up so they can pass the Bechdel test. Both these examples make it the woman's responsibility to ensure their story passes the test, instead of the men realizing how much they've hogged the narrative, like in Rick and Morty.
Rick and Morty isn't suddenly going to become feminist – the lead characters specifically mentioned that story as something they'd "never do," but the fact the creators have the self-awareness to poke fun at their male-centric stories shows how deceptively smart the show can be. All the showrunners need to do now is actually do the work to fix the problem, now they've pointed out it they know it exists.
Rick and Morty Season 4 airs Sundays on Adult Swim at 11:30 P.M. Eastern.